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Published: September 24th 2013
It has been seven years but I am back in Iran and this time I will concentrate on the north west of the country. I left Agarak a little after 8 am and was driven to the border by a very old man in an even older car, I then had quite a walk from the Armenia border post across a bridge spanning the Aras River, getting my passport checked by a multitude of officials, police and soldiers along the way. Finally I arrived at the Iranian immigration area and after a short wait passed through changing my dram to rials before exiting the building and meeting my driver and guide.
First stop will be the town of Jolfa which is on the border with Azerbaijan where for some reason they dropped me at the hotel and left not returning till the next day, there is nothing in this fly speck town of any interest, so I was soon going crazy with boredom. Social media is blocked here and my attempts to find anything of interest to do failed, I rang the guide late in the day and start yelling at him. The hotel they arranged was a business hotel
so there was no restaurant and not a living soul to communicate with, what a waste of a day.
The next morning the guide arrived and we had a good chat concerning the "misunderstanding" and then hit the road, we would spend much of the day driving along the very scenic Aras River valley watching first the Azerbaijani and then the Armenian border guards watching us.
First stop the world heritage listed Armenian Monastery of St Stephanos, the monastery is located some fifteen kilometres west of Jolfa and has been restored meticulously. It was a lovely morning and the church was free of tourists so after wandering around with my very knowledgeable guide for a time learning the history of the place and of the Saints stoning death we decided to stop for tea before moving on.
It was then a long drive almost to the Turkish border to the lovely Qareh Kalisi or the Black Church. The original church was built by St Thaddeus who arrived in the area around forty years after Jesus and was doing such a good job converting the locals that the Armenian king had him and all 3000 of his followers
slaughtered. The original church at the site is built of black volcanic stone the other was built in the 19th century. For three days each year Muslims are banned from the area while Armenian's come here to drink wine and picnic.
After leaving the Black church we returned the way we had come stopping for lunch at one of Iran's 500 year old caravansari enjoying a dish called dizi, it is a lamb and vegetable (tomato based) soap. It was then back on to the Aras River road for several hundred kilometres trying to avoid ancient Azerbaijani trucks and nomad livestock.
Some thirty kilometres from Kalybar our intended destination we passed over a mountain into a thick fog bank, which was particularly concerning because visibility dropped significantly and other drivers often did not use headlights or livestock would appear from no where right in front of us. Quite a suspenseful hour or so, when we broke out of the fog it was dark. The hotel in Kalybar was not good when I asked for a room with a western toilet they gave me a fold out one, very funny. I then went to the local tea house with
my guide to meet the locals.
Next morning we went to check out Babak Castle high on it's mountain, if I wanted to visit, it is a five hour hike up and back, I decided to give that a miss and we headed on towards Tabriz stopping only for breakfast in a town along the way. On arriving in Tabriz a city of just under two million I checked into my very nice room, before going with the guide to the Blue mosque which is not very blue any more, after the earthquake of 1723 flattened the mosque people took pieces away as mementos so now only a small percentage of the original decoration remains.
Next was the massive maze like bazaar, I would have become immediate lost if not for the guide, I drank tea, ate lunch and made a few purchase all with out seeing daylight, the bazaar has a number of mosques, twenty two caravansari and 5500 shops under its seven kilometres of roof. I decided I had had enough for one day so I returned to my room to eat watermelon, bananas and pistachios.
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